African-American Studies

Shirley Ann Jackson, An African-American Physicist Of Many Firsts

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Shirley Ann Jackson loved math and science as a young girl and stuck with it. She was inspired by nature and often observed the behaviors of bees from her backyard. Not letting discouraging words from her professors phase her, Jackson pursued physics and became the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate degree from MIT in 1973. Impressed? That's just the beginning.

Theoretical Physics' Superwoman

After earning her Ph.D. in theoretical elementary particle physics, Jackson spent several years of postdoctoral research at various labs across the United States, including Fermilab in Illinois. She ultimately followed her passion for condensed matter and landed a role working with AT&T Bell Laboratories. Over her 19 years at Bell Labs, Jackson was a leading developer of Caller ID, Call Waiting and fiber optics for phones.

The accolades don't stop there. According to the New York Times, Jackson is the first African-American to become a Commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She is both the first woman and the first African-American to serve as the chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and now the first African-American woman to lead a national research university (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute). She is also the first African-American woman elected to the National Academy of Engineering.

Calling All Women In STEM

Jackson was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1998, because, as Time Magazine aptly stated in 2005, she's "perhaps the ultimate role model for women in science." When asked what drives her, Jackson cooly replied: "What drives me is the ability to make a difference—to make a difference in people's lives, and to be able to speak to the issues of the day." We hope every young woman considering a career in STEM is listening—Jackson is proof that you can make a difference.

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Written by Curiosity Staff February 9, 2017

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